La Ciudad de México, or Mexico City, is a city like a fever dream. Built on top of a lake and on the ruins of the Aztec empire, the historic center of Mexico’s capital sinks gradually into the ground, testifying the city’s heritage.
Its cultural significance, however, goes past the times of the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest. In the 20th century, CDMX, became the epicenter of the Mexican equivalent to the École de Paris: Among Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera a group of artists, political exiles, and other intellectuals gathered in the city. Architects such as O’Gorman and Barragán lived and worked in Mexico City and several of their houses can be visited, no matter whether they’re museums or private homes.
Today, this multi-million metropolis is one of the cities with the most museums in the world, and home to fantastic gastronomy, ranging from street stalls to world-class restaurants, a booming art scene as well as a buzzing nightlife. La Ciudad de México boasts of energy, vendors drive through the streets yelling their offerings against the walls, fire artists entertain people stuck in traffic and on some days the air shimmers from the smog.
It was this dynamic combined with the unexpected calm in the leafy streets of neighborhoods like San Miguel Chapultepec or Roma that, first, made me fall in love with the city in the blink of an eye and, then, return for a few months. It’s the ambiguity that makes it so alluring. The city has more faces than the hydra has heads.
It’s a mosaic of architectural styles ranging from modernism over simple shacks to French-inspired turn-of-the-century buildings. What ties it all together are the taco stalls. They are omnipresent, on almost every street corner, and the place where everyone meets: travelers, business people, and school kids.
As Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais is supposed to have said, whoever is bored in Mexico City is bored of living.
Where to Stay
Accommodation options in Mexico City are as diverse as the city itself and given its massive size location is key. If you are staying for a couple of days, consider to divide your nights between different neighborhoods so you have shorter ways, spend less time in traffic and more exploring. The city offers a wide range of accommodation options ranging from big to small boutique hotels, and from whole apartments or houses to stays with locals. No matter what you are looking for, there’s something for everyone.
Nima Local House is situated in la Colonia Roma, one of the trendiest neighborhoods of the city, characterized by tree-lined streets, turn-of-the-century architecture, and more than a fair share of cafés, bars, restaurants, and shops. There are four different rooms in the house from 1920, all named after people who were important to the previous owner. The hotel has a very homey feel with super friendly staff and a cozy common area consisting of a living room, a patio, and a rooftop.
Take a break from all the hustle and bustle with a cup of coffee or help yourself to a drink from the trust-based bar before heading back out, luckily life awaits at your doorstep. Colima might be one of the prettiest streets in the area with many of its buildings, including the one housing the hotel, having been built by the same architect, José de la Lama. The area is ideal for a relaxed stroll with occasional stops for coffee, food, and a bit of browsing.
Roma Nte, Cuauhtémoc
Juan O’Gorman, architect and member of the illustrious circle among Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, designed the couple’s home and studio in la Colonia San Ángel as well as a few other houses in the neighborhood.
Stay in one of his masterpieces, a historic house built in 1933 just around the corner from Rivera and Kahlo’s former home and experience this layer of Mexico City’s heritage first hand.
Your host Paulina works with craftswomen to produce and sell traditional Mexican textiles and is happy to share recommendations and insights with her guests.
San Ángel is a tranquil neighborhood, full of architectural delights and a short cab, metro, or bus ride away from the more busy part of the city. If you are into architecture or art and are looking for an intimate space to share with family or friends, then this special Airbnb is like a dream come true!
Where to Eat
Nido means “nest” in Spanish and the restaurant’s name is a nod to the idea of creating a space that people can return to, like a bird coming home to roost. The café-slash-restaurant and popular breakfast spot focuses on giving its guests a feeling of family and belonging that is intentionally different from the stiff waiters and formal scripts in many Mexican restaurants, explains Eduardo – one half of the mother and son duo that runs Niddo: Guests enter through the kitchen so they can see where the food comes from.
Eduardo and his mum, Karen, who recently got named one of Mexico’s best new chefs by gastro magazine Food and Wine, put a lot of emphasis on the quality of the ingredients which are processed as little as possible. The menu is small focusing on “simple food we like to eat”, as Eduardo puts it, and changes with the seasons as well as their feelings. The two like to travel and bring back inspiration as well as small goods, bought directly from the producers, which they sell under the product line “Niddo con tigo”.
Besides great breakfast, lunch, and brunch, Niddo offers baked goods and coffee from Chiapas. Recently, they also opened a new location of Niddo on Oxford 12. Niddo doesn’t take reservations but it surely is worth a wait.
Every day 8:00 am – 5:30 pm
Orinoco is the millennial among the taquerias. Traditional white tiles, simple furniture, and bright lighting give this spot just off Avenida Alvaro Obregon in Roma the right vibe somewhere between low-key-low-effort and thoughtfully-put-together.
The menu is short and focuses on Northern-Mexican tacos (the founders are from Monterrey), with a bit of a twist. Side note: don’t miss out on the Dulce de Leche dessert. Orinoco is popular among the creative crowd and can get really busy so prepare for a bit of a wait.
Av. Insurgentes Sur 253
Roma Nte, Cuauhtémoc
Mon & Tues 1:00 – 11:00 pm
Weds & Thurs 1:00 pm – 3:00 am
Fri & Sat 1:00 pm – 5:00 am
Sun 1:00 pm – 4:00 am
A local favorite with all the charm that comes with big knives, mountains of meat, and smoky air, Taco El Guero has – in my opinion – the best tacos in town. They literally go straight from the grill to your mouth and the sauces are amazing, although spicy so take it slow on your first visit.
Manuel María Contreras 59
San Rafael, Cuauhtémoc
Every day 4:00 – 11:30 pm
Housed in one of the beautiful French-inspired buildings from the early 20th century that are so characteristic for la Colonia Roma, Casa Virginia is the brain child of one of Mexico’s most famous female chefs, Mónica Patiño.
The restaurant is named after the elderly landlady and a wonderful celebration of the fusion between Mexican and European influences that is represented by the architecture of the house. High ceilings with decorative molding, white walls and tasteful details everywhere set the scene for wooden tables dressed in white table clothes and silver ware while sunlight streams through the large windows.
Having lunch in this elegant space feels like drifting off in a day dream in which you travel back in time and join a local upper-class family for a meal at home. The food is just as good as the interior and served family-style in the middle of the table. Bring time and enjoy a long lunch practicing the art of Sobremesa, the traditional relaxation at the table that follows a heavy meal.
Roma Nte., Cuauhtémoc
Tues & Weds 1:30 – 10:30 pm
Thurs – Sat 1:30 – 11:30 pm
Sun 1:30 – 5:30 pm
Feasting on seafood while the wine is flowing, that’s lunch at Contramar in a nut shell (or sea shell, pun intended). The restaurant is especially popular on Friday afternoons when people want to splurge and lunch slips into the weekend. Besides is buzzing atmosphere, Contramar is known for its top notch tuna tostadas which are just as delicious as everyone says so don’t miss out on these.
Calle de Durango 200
Roma Nte, Cuauhtémoc
Mon – Fri 12:00 – 8:00 pm
Sat & Sun 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Originally a Mesoamerican dish, tamales date back to pre-Columbian times and are a popular street food allover Mexico with different recipes depending on the region. What most of them have in common is the corn-based dough that is wrapped around varying ingredients, then the tamales are steamed in either a corn husk or a banana leaf. Get your fill and watch the chefs prepare tamales right in front of you at Tamales Madre in the upcoming neighborhood La Juarez. The restaurant consists basically of one big common table with space for around 10 people in the middle of the room where the excellent food is prepared as well as eaten.
Calle Liverpool 44a
Tues – Sun 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
Come for a contemporary menu made from Mexican ingredients, mouth-watering oysters, or a couple of well-crafted cocktails and stay for the beautiful interior.
Dining at Meroma feels like sitting in a very well designed green house. The round windows and glass ceiling let the boundaries between inside and the large trees outside blur.
Roma Nte, Cuauhtémoc
Tues – Sat 1:00 – 11:00 pm
Sun 1:00 – 6:00 pm
Where to Drink
Another spot for the whole day is Cicatriz. Located in upcoming Colonia Juárez and with a mostly open front that lets the calm interior shake hands with the city life outside, it’s the perfect spot to get some work done, grab a coffee with friends that turns into a spontaneous dinner, washed down with a drink.
Calle Dinamarca 44
Every day 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
Hidden behind the gates of a garage in a 1940s Art Deco house in a leafy side street of la Colonia Condesa, lies Canopia. The speakeasy wine bar has a special focus on Mexican producers but you can find wines from a great variety of places and in a lot of different styles, many of them organic and biodynamic. Take a seat at the communal table, decorated with candles and clay pottery made by Mexican artisans, and loose your sense of time. If all the wine makes you hungry, they offer artisanal cheeses and charcuterie as well as seasonal tapas, pinchos, homemade pickles, and shared dishes. Relax, sit back, and enjoy the ride!
Av México 190
Hipódromo Condesa, Cuauhtémoc
Tues 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
Weds – Sat 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Where to Shop
Utilitario Mexicano is a concept store focusing on traditional Mexican house hold items. Get a press to make fresh orange juice in the morning, a stone grinder for your Guacamole, or a tortilla basket – find everything you’ve been looking for or that you never thought you would want or need.
Calle Marsella 3a
Every day 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Just off popular Plaza Rio de Janeiro in Roma Norte, the cultural venue, design studio and gallery Studio IMA is housed in an apartment building next door to the founder Bettina’s home. In an intimate setting, Studio IMA showcases high-quality furniture, décor objects and art created by both local and international artists and designers. No matter whether you are into arts and crafts or beautifully designed spaces, don’t miss out on this gem. By appointment only.
Roma Nte, Cuauhtémoc
Tues – Fri 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sat 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
If vintage furniture is your thing, then book an appointment with Decada Muebles. Their showroom is located in a beautiful old building in la Colonia Santa María la Ribera that is worth a visit alone. Yes, it’s going to be tricky to get a piece of furniture home but they have a few of smaller, suitcase-compatible objects as well and they offer shipping.
Calle Dr Erazo 172
Mon – Fri 10:00 am – 4:30 pm
Sat & Sun Closed
Cultural Sights to See
Works of Luis Barragán
No visit to Mexico City is complete without seeing at least one of architect Luis Barragán’s masterpieces. Choose between his own house and studio Casa Louis Barragán, his last project Casa Gilardi, Casa Prieto López (the largest private residence ever designed by Barragán where the prominent Prieto López family held high-society garden parties in the 1940s), or the equestrian estate Casa Cuadra San Cristobal in a quiet suburb of the city. For visits, please make an appointment.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Somewhat the official power couple of Mexico City, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo clearly have left their mark on the city. Casa Azul, the house where Frida Kahlo was born and where she died, is probably on everyone’s list already. It can get very crowded but the unique insight into her creative universe that is so deeply connected to the house, makes it definitely worth it.
If you make a trip down to Coyoacán, the wonderful neighborhood where the house is located, make sure to take a stroll. Included in the ticket price is Museo Anahuacalli, brainchild of Diego Rivera and built by another great architect and friend of the couple, Juan O`Gorman. While Rivera is mainly known for his murals, he was also a dedicated collector focusing on pre-Colombian pieces. Get a glimpse into his world in this architectural beauty, made from local volcanic rock.
Books could be written about all the museums and galleries in Mexico City but for a start, Museo Nacional de Antropología, the National anthropology museum, is a must. Travel back in time and explore Mexico`s rich cultural heritage!
Into contemporary art? Then Museo Jumex is the one for you. The building itself, a white-concrete cube with a sawtooth top designed by British architect David Chipperfield, in the upscale neighborhood of Polanco is eye candy. Make sure to step out on the terrace and enjoy the view on the surrounding modern architecture in this part of the city.
A bit off the beaten track, Museo Universitario del Chopo is located in la Colonia Santa María la Ribera, a very local neighborhood that becomes increasingly popular among the creative class. The museum is part of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The historic building, a glass and iron structure, was built in Germany in the early 20th century for an international art and textile fair and its high ceilings set a dramatic scene for the exhibitions.
While you’re in the area, take a walk and check out the Kiosco Morisco. This kiosk was originally designed for the New Orlean’s International Exposition in the 19th century and after several relocations ended up in Santa María la Ribera. Today, the Moorish-inspired structure is a popular neighborhood meeting point.
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